And, really—and perhaps more to the point—what is America? America, to me, is a flash of sunlight through a grove of trees. And then an alligator appears and you run like hell. America is a hope, a dream, and then that dream ends with you on your back, the taste of blood in your mouth, and some big crewcut guy is screaming at you that you seem like some kind of fucking subversive. And then he starts crying. He’s tired, he says, he doesn’t need this shit, he just got off a double shift and his racist club is now going to start charging for the brown shirts. America, to me, will always be a glass of iced tea at the end of a long day, the distant sound of a freight train, and then your mama puts down her glass of tea and goes, “That’s weird, there are no train tracks around here.” And then you all dive under the table, but that was dumb, because how is being under the table going to help you as a freight train comes crashing through your shack? And then later, at the rustic graveyard, after Pa has been lowered in, and has lurched out, and been pushed back in, with a shovel, a rustic gravedigger mutters a philosophical word to you in passing, but you can’t make it out, because his beard is just atrocious.
America, to me, is that house in the distance, across a plowed field, just at dusk, and an orange light shines from within and you are filled with a vague longing to trudge across that vast field and get to know those strangers better—you are lonely, you have been out on the road a long time, the world has been singing you a sad song indeed, and the nights have been cold, and various birds native only to America have been crying out in the night, and you have hallucinated their cries solidifying into human voices singing, “Loss! Love! Mourning!” And you mount that paintless porch and knock on that crooked door, and when a man answers and sees that you are a stranger, is he afraid? Does he slam that door in your face? No, he welcomes you in, and gives you a warm meal and a place to rest, and late that night, in an ancient room that speaks to you mysteriously of Antietam and Gettysburg, you think, Wait a minute, I know these people, these people are my freaking cousins—why did they act like they’ve never seen me before? And in the distance you once again hear a freight train, and you brace yourself, but this time (and perhaps this, to me, is the essence of the American propensity for hope), this time, the train is on tracks, and though the house shakes and some of the wife’s ceramic frogs fall off the shelf, the house stands, and you doze off, into a verdant, dream-laced sleep, thinking, Tomorrow, I will awaken into a land where the streams run crystal clear and golden fruit falls off the boughs of the trees, but since one can’t eat golden fruit, I’ll take my cousins over to Denny’s and see what’s up with this whole pretending-not-to-know-me shtick. Did I somehow offend them? Is this about that minibike I borrowed? Oh, shit, I bet it is."
— George Saunders on America
— Joan Didion, “Los Angeles Notebook”